I’m Not Saying It Ain’t So, But I Am Just A Bit…

In late August the Associated Press ran this short story which was picked up by media outlets all over the country:

Though the headline talks about a “large chunk of Mars rock,” the story says,

“A Maine museum will play host to a chunk of rock it said is the largest intact Mars rock on Earth.”

So now we’ve gone from “large chunk” to “largest” on Earth.

Here’s the rock they’re referring to:

The story goes on to say,

“The museum said the rock was the result of an asteroid impact on the surface of Mars that ejected material into an Earth-crossing orbit in space.”

I was curious, not because I care about Mars rocks – I don’t. 

I was curious about the provenance of the Mars rock:

You hear a lot about provenance from art dealers, museum curators, on Antiques Roadshow – appraisers and potential buyers want to know who owned the item before you did, and what person before that, and the person before that person…all the way back to whomever acquired the item from its creator.  Or discovered the item. 

It could be a painting, furniture, jewelry, a rock – anything. 

But when it comes to authenticity, provenance is everything.

So when the Associated Press reported what the museum said about the Mars rock’s appearance on Earth – that is what made me curious.

Curious enough to go to the museum’s website – the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (MMGM) in Bethel, ME.  That’s where I found this August 24 news release:

Which said the rock weighs 32 pounds and measures 9” x 10” x 6.5” inches, and…

“This specimen was acquired for the Museum by meteorite dealer Darryl Pitt in April 2021 from a Mauritanian meteorite and desert truffle hunter.”

So – who’s Darryl Pitt?  Are we readers of this news release supposed to say, “Oh, Darryl, sure!  Great guy!”

According to Meteorite-Times Magazine – and who knew there was such a thing – Pitt is…

“…the curator of the celebrated Macovich Collection, the largest collection of aesthetic iron meteorites in the world.”

But “aesthetic iron meteorites” notwithstanding, it doesn’t explain how Pitt came to acquire the rock from the “Mauritanian meteorite and desert truffle hunter,” whom they say found the Mars rock.

And who is not named, so I’ll refer to her/him as “Unnamed.”

The news release goes on to say that the Mars rock was “recovered from near Taoudenni, Mali – a desert salt-mining center 400 miles north of Timbuktu.”

Here are Mauritania and Mali, in west Africa:

I marked Taoudenni in the northern part of Mali.

Taoudenni (pictured below) is described on Wikipedia as,

“…a remote site in the hottest region on the planet, located over a hundred and sixty kilometers [99 miles] from the nearest inhabited location of any size.” 

So Unnamed from Mauritania is across the border in Taoudenni, an area also described in a Los Angeles Times article as a…

“…sand-scoured outpost of misery…It spans an area so vast it could swallow entire European nations and still have emptiness to spare.”

And Unnamed is desert truffle hunting and/or meteorite hunting in this wasteland? 

And just happened across not just any Mars rock, but the largest Mars rock on Earth?

If Unnamed was hunting for truffles, did they lift this 32-pound thing up to look for truffles underneath it?  And while Unnamed had the rock in hand, they thought, “Well, I’m not scoring any truffles, but this rock looks interesting.  Maybe I’ll contact Darryl about it”?

How did Unnamed connect with Darryl Pitt?  Sure, I googled Pitt (pictured) and found him online, but that’s because I googled his name.  When I googled “meteorite experts” and “Mars rocks experts” I found no Pitt.  That isn’t to say he isn’t an expert – only that he didn’t appear in my searches.

Did Unnamed connect directly with Pitt?  Or did the rock pass through numerous other hands before it reached Pitt?

And it seems rather coincidental that this unnamed desert truffle hunter also just happened to be a meteorite hunter who just happened upon a meteorite from Mars.

I’m thinking about what the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow would make of this provenance:

Again, from the museum’s news release:

“For confirmation of his belief this could be Martian, Pitt sent a small sample to Dr. Carl Agee – the director of the Institute of Meteoritics and one of the world’s most renowned classification experts of Martian meteorites.”

And we Earthlings encounter so many Martian rocks that someone – thank Heavens – has become a “renowned classification expert”?

There was a peer review of Dr. Agee’s analysis and confirmation, and everybody (I guess all the less renowned?) agreed the rock was from Mars, and now it’s on view at the MMGM.

So, expert+ peer review = indubitable?

Read on to see why I’m not convinced…

Want to see the Mars rock?

$15, please. 

Seniors, $12, students $10, children 12 and under, free.

The news release has some meteor-ese language, like “extraordinary chemical and isotopic markers” and “pyroxene, olivine and maskekynite,” and while it was all very impressive, it didn’t convince me that this rock absolutely came from Mars.

There is too much unexplored in space, and too many planets and moons and asteroids moving around and sometimes crossing paths…

How do we know the rock didn’t come from Kepler-452b, discovered in 2015, an Earth-like planet that resides 1,400 light years from Earth, according to space.com?

I think we don’t know.

I think these folks saying it’s so – doesn’t make it so.

That’s why I thought of this when I read the Mars rock story:

Relics.

Objects of religious significance from the past.

People of many religions revere relics and have for centuries.  I respect their right to their beliefs, and I hope they can respect mine.

Because this is another area about which I’m…

This relic, for example, is identified as St. Francis Xavier’s humerus, in St. Joseph’s Church, Macau:

Francis Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552.

The humerus is the arm bone between your shoulder and your elbow. 

What’s the provenance here?

Who did this church acquire it from, and who had it before that?

How could anyone possibly know that what we’re looking at today, did in fact come from the body of Francis Xavier?  The Catholic church doesn’t send items like this humerus to labs for DNA testing and radiocarbon dating.

The Catholic church simply says, “We have the humerus bone of St. Francis Xavier.”

And,

“It is so because we say it’s so.”

And,

“To view this relic, pay at the admissions window.”

The Catholic church has been doing this for centuries.  It’s what could be called a “revenue stream.”

And how about relics of the “True Cross”?

They’ve been in churches and monstaries for centuries. And today, they’re still everywhere:

So many relics of the “True Cross,” said John Calvin (1509-1564), that…

“…if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load.  Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.”

We’re just supposed to believe, I guess.

For me – I guess not.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum was already claiming to be home to the “largest piece of the moon on Earth”:

Though after the Mars rock’s debut, as of September 1 it was off with the old and on with the new.  The “largest piece of moon” reference has vanished, and the Mars rock was now front and center:

So I guess now the public can plunk down their $15 and get a twofer – a two-for-one:

The largest piece of Mars on Earth and the largest piece of the moon on Earth.

The Mars rock unveiling took place on September 1:

Literally…

The crowd went wild:

And this scientist:

Could barely contain her emotions:

“I’m trying not to get giddy.  I think I’m supposed to look professional but I’m just about two seconds away from doing a happy dance and dancing around the rock.”

Maybe we could get ole Bill Haley and His Comets to resurrect their 1950s hit, but with an updated title:

But – heads-up:

If you have a craving to go to Maine and see this:

You’ll have to hurry – according to the museum’s Facebook page, as of September 1:

“This specimen will be on display in the Space Rocks gallery for one week before heading out for its national debut at the Hard Rock Summit in Denver!  It will return on September 24th.”

So, perhaps we should just say…

To hell with provenance.

We humans believe what we choose to believe.  Or what we’re told to believe.

Perhaps the Mars rock in the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum is the real deal.

Or perhaps not.

This rock from outer space was the real deal.

Until it wasn’t:

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